The elevation of the apostles in Cynewulf's Christ II: Ascension.
Since Cynewulf's Ascension translates (however freely) only the last three sections of Gregory's homily, his poem does not directly explicate this passage from Mark or discuss Gregory's exegesis of it. (3) Yet, in focusing narrowly on sections nine through eleven of Gregory's Homilia in Evangelia XXIX (the immediate source for Cynewulf's poem), scholars have largely neglected to notice the ways in which other biblical and patristic portrayals of Jesus's at times fraught relationship with the apostles (as in the passage from Mark's Gospel) may have influenced Cynewulf's interpretation of the Ascension event and its meaning. By showing Jesus chastising the apostles for their lack of faith just before reminding them of their monumental responsibility to "go forth preaching everywhere," the passage from Mark 16 juxtaposes two qualities of the apostles as model Christians that remain in tension throughout Cynewulf's poem: their all too human frailty and their superhuman heroism.
In his Homilia in Evangelia XXIX, Gregory explicates Jesus's rebuke of the apostles in Mark 16:14 as follows:
Quod resurrectionem dominicam discipuli tarde crediderunt, non tam illorum infirmitas quam nostra, ut ita dicam, futura firmitas fuit. Ipsa namque resurrectio illis dubitantibus per multa argumenta monstrata est, quae dum nos legentes agnoscimus, quid aliud quam de illorum dubitatione solidamur? Minus enim mihi Maria Magdalene praestitit quae citius credidit, quam Thomas qui diu dubitauit. Ille etenim dubitando uulnerum cicatrices tetigit, et de nostro pectore dubietatis uulnus amputauit.
[That the disciples were so slow to believe in the Lord's resurrection did not come so much from their want of strength as to strengthen us in the future, if I may speak in this way. He showed them in their doubt many proofs of his resurrection. What happens to us when we read and acknowledge them is that we are strengthened as a result of their doubt. Mary Magdalene, who was quick to believe, has helped me less than Thomas, who remained in doubt. While doubting he touched the scars of the wounds, and cut out of our hearts the wound of doubt.] (4)
In Ascension, Cynewulf follows Gregory in elaborating on the suggestion of the apostles' weakness and lack of understanding present in Mark 16:14 and other biblical accounts, but, in doing so, he goes beyond what is merely hinted at in Gregory's exegesis of these passages, and takes the idea in a very different direction. (5) Cynewulf draws on an alternative patristic tradition that interprets the apostles as grief stricken by Jesus's departure and deliberately alters the biblical narratives in a way that renders the apostles more sympathetic to his audience and that reinforces his argument about the implications of Christ's Ascension for humankind.
Cynewulf does not follow Mark or Luke by beginning Christ's final speech to his apostles with words of criticism or by chiding their misunderstanding. Instead, he presents Christ's last words as a jubilant, reassuring exhortation to his followers: "Gefeod ge on ferdde" [Rejoice in your hearts! (37a)]. Cynewulf then shows Christ emphasizing his continued presence among the apostles in the form of the Holy Spirit, and crafts a glowing elaboration of the goals of the apostles' worldwide mission:
"Farad nu geond ealne yrmenne grund, geond widwegas, weoredum cydad, bodiad ond bremad beorhtne geleafan, ond fulwiad folc under roderum. Hweorfad to heofonum. Hergas breotap, fyllad ond feogad, feondscype dwaescad; sibbe sawad on sefan manna purh meahta sped. Ic eow mid wunige, ford on frofre, ond eow fride healde strengdu stapolfaestre on stowa gehware." (Ascension, 37b-51)
[Go now throughout all the wide earth, throughout the distant regions, make known to the multitudes, preach and proclaim the bright belief, and baptize the people under the heavens. Turn them to heaven, bring down the idols, fell and destroy them, and wash away hatred, sow peace in the hearts of men, through the fullness of your power. I will abide with you henceforth as a comfort, and keep you in peace with steadfast strength in all places.]
Here Cynewulf draws on the version of Christ's final speech in the Gospel of Matthew and embellishes it with more detailed instructions on how the apostles must go about "teaching all nations" (Matt. 28:19). Cynewulf likewise amplifies Christ's last reassurance in Matthew that he will be with the apostles "all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt. 28:20) by bracketing this speech with moving promises to remain with the apostles "on stowa gehware" [in all places (51b)] and "awo to ealdre" [forever and ever (40a)] in the forms of "meaht, spedz" [power (4%)] and "giefe" [grace (41a)]. Christ's last words are represented here as almost a kind of pep talk, an uplifting oration meant to remind the apostles of their duty to "preach and proclaim the bright belief" after he leaves them, and to reassure them of their ability to do so with the help of the Holy Spirit.
It is all the more striking, then, when Cynewulf departs from the biblical narratives by representing the apostles as overcome with sorrow and grief at Christ's Ascension:
Him waes geomor sefa hat aet heortan, hyge murnende, paes be hi swa leofne leng ne mostun geseon under swegle.... Gewitan him pa gongan to Hierusalem haeled hygerofe, in pa halgan burg, geomormode, ponan hy god nyhst up stigende eagum segun, hyra wilgifan. Paer woes wopes hring; torne bitolden waes seo treowlufu hat aet heortan, hreder innan weoll, beorn breostsefa. (60b-63a; 94-101a)
[They were sad in spirit, hot about the heart, mourning in mind, because they no longer might see him whom they loved beneath the sky.... Then the men departed, going to Jerusalem, stout-hearted men, into the holy city, sad in mind, from the place whence they last had seen God rise up before their eyes, their King. There was an outpouring of weeping, overwhelmed in sorrow; the constant love was hot about their hearts, their breasts welled up within, their hearts' coffers burned.]
The emotional reaction of the apostles elaborated here directly contradicts Christ's earlier exhortation in the poem that they "Rejoice in [their] hearts!" as well as Luke's account that they "returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Luke 24:52).6 This discourse on the sorrowful mourning of the apostles watching the Son of God ascend from earth does not feature at all in Gregory's homily or in the accounts of the Ascension given in Acts or the Gospels and is thus Cynewulf's own striking adaptation of the well-known story. The description Cynewulf provides of the apostles' emotions is moving; they express their deep, overwhelming love for their Lord in the traditional language of mourning so common in Old English heroic and elegiac poetry. (7)
Peter Clemoes has interpreted Cynewulf's choice to represent the apostles as grief stricken and overcome with sadness as an extension of the comitatus imagery he uses to characterize the relationship between Christ as Lord and the apostles as his trusty, devoted "degna gedryht" [company of thanes]. Clemoes considers the apostles' mourning to be an appropriate reaction for this group of the first Christian "haeledas" [warriors] deprived of their "hlaford" [lord]. Both Clemoes and Daniel Calder argue that the main purpose of Cynewulf's depiction of the apostles' sadness is "simple contrast" with the poet's account of the joy of the angels who receive Christ into heaven. They suggest that Cynewulf presents the apostles as grieving in order to accentuate the emotional gulf between the angels in heaven and the apostles on earth. Additionally, Clemoes suggests, this provides the poem with a clever antithetical structure that also speaks to the cultural concerns of his Anglo-Saxon audience, who would presumably delight in recognizing the familiar heroic motif of thanes mourning the loss of their lord. (8) These explanations, though compelling, fail to account for the source of Cynewulf's representation of the apostles as obedient thanes of Christ, who are nonetheless bewildered, sad, and mournful at his departure. This picture of the apostles in Ascension, so at odds with the bold and confident image Cynewulf crafts for them elsewhere in his poem The Fates of the Apostles, demands further interpretation. (9)
Although extra-biblical, Cynewulf's concept of the apostles' grief and sadness draws on an accepted tradition represented in the homilies and commentaries of such august church fathers as John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, and Bede. (10) These exegetical interpretations explain Jesus's dwelling with the apostles for forty days after the Resurrection as well as the words of the angels to the apostles at Christ's departure as concessions to the weakness and sorrow of the apostles at the departure of their lord and friend. This alternative understanding of the apostles' reaction to Christ's departure was first developed by John Chrysostom to help to explain one of the more cryptic moments in the account of the Ascension given in Acts: the question the angels pose to the apostles. (11) According to Acts 1:10-11, two men in "white garments" (traditionally interpreted as angels) approached the apostles as they were staring into the clouds into which Christ had just ascended, and spoke to the apostles, saying, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven." In his homily on the Ascension, Chrysostom explains this curious episode by claiming that the apostles required reassurance from the angels that Christ would return (at the Last Judgment) because their human, emotional attachment to Jesus as a man had caused them to begin grieving at his departure. (12) While Cynewulf is unlikely to have been familiar with Chrysostom's reading of this passage, (13) Bede's commentary on this verse in his Expositio Actuum Apostolorum 1:11 a is quite close to the idea expressed by Chrysostom: "The angels appeared to them for two reasons, namely to console them in their sorrow at his Ascension by reminding them of his return, and to show that he had truly gone to heaven, not merely apparently so, as in the case of Elijah." (14) Bede's commentary on the Acts of the Apostles was the only commentary available on this book of the Bible in the medieval Latin west, and it may have provided a native source for Cynewulf's idea that the apostles sorrowed and required consolation after the Ascension of their Lord.
Another likely source for Cynewulf's idea of the grieving apostles is Augustine's sermon De Ascensione Domini IV. In this sermon, Augustine explores the idea of the weakness and humanity of the apostles in order to explain why Christ stayed with the disciples for forty days following his Resurrection:
Sane propter infirmitatem discipulorum suorum: non enim deerant etiam in illo numero, quos diabolus infidelitate tentaret, ita ut quidam discipulus ejus in ipsa specie in qua noverat, non tamen magis fidem haberet viventibus membris, quam recentibus cicatricibus; ergo ad eorum confirmationem dignatus est post resurrectionem vivere cum illis quadraginta diebus integris.... Verumtamen non illos voluit in carne remanere, nec carnali dilectione diutius retinere.
[Certainly, it was because of the weakness of his disciples; after all, there were not lacking among their number those whom the devil would tempt to unbelief; to this extent, indeed, that one of his disciples, seeing him in the aspect he was familiar with, would put less faith in a living body than in his recent wounds. So, for their encouragement he was prepared to live with them after his resurrection for the whole of forty days.... However, he did not want them to remain fixed on his flesh, nor to be held down by merely a human love.] (15)
The apostles' love of the flesh which Jesus assumed out of his humility, Augustine argues, opened them up to the devil's temptations, and made it difficult for them to accept Christ's divine nature. Jesus thus remained with his disciples for forty days as a concession to their weakness, in order to prove to them the reality of his Resurrection by eating, drinking, and interacting with them. By affirming their faith in his Resurrection and making them witnesses to his heavenly Ascension, Christ enabled his apostles to begin to move beyond their attachment to his fleshly self. But, despite all this, Augustine conjectures, they grieved at his departure. In his homily, Augustine imagines the moment of Jesus's parting from the apostles in deeply emotional terms:
Tanquam hoc diceret Apostolis suis: Non vultis me dimittere (quomodo unusquisque non vult dimittere amicum suum, tanquam dicens: Esto nobiscum aliquantum, refrigeratur anima nostra quando te videmus); sed melius est ut istam carnem non videatis, et divinitatem cogitetis. Tollo me a vobis exterius, et me ipso impleo vos interius.
[It is as though what [Jesus] was saying to the apostles was: "You don't want to let me go--as nobody wants to let a friend go," as though you were saying, "Stay with us a little while, our souls are refreshed when we see you, but it is better that you should not see this flesh, and should turn your thoughts to my divinity. I am removing myself from you outwardly, and filling you with myself inwardly."] (16)
In Augustine's interpretation, the apostles' poignant attachment to the fleshly presence of Jesus on earth is a form of human weakness that borders on unbelief, and one which Christ must help them to overcome by ultimately removing the object of their affections from view. Like Chrysostom and Bede, Augustine bases this argument on the account of the Last Supper in John 14:27-28, where Christ reveals his awareness of his own death, saying to the apostles, "Do not let your heart be troubled, or be afraid. You have heard me say, 'I go away and I am coming to you: If you loved me, you would indeed rejoice that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I:" Again, despite his words of encouragement, the apostles fail to rejoice with him. Instead, as Jesus says to them near the end of his speech, "because I have spoken these things, sorrow hath filled your heart." (17) The apostles' fixation on Christ's human form, their inability to grasp the divinity of the Father, and their doubts and confusion about the resurrection of the flesh were all interpreted by Augustine and other exegetes as symptoms of their humanity, the imperfect state of their understanding of Christ as God and man. As Augustine writes, "Subducto autem ab oculis carnali aspectu, jam illi hominem non viderunt. Si quid erat in cordibus eorum tractum de desiderio carnali, quasi contristatum est in ipsis" [If there was any trace in (the apostles') hearts of fleshly yearning, it was presumably saddened in them ... once the fleshly appearance was removed from their sight]. (18) While there are, then, several patristic precedents for Cynewulf's conception of the grieving apostles, the fact remains that Cynewulf departs from his main source text as well as the biblical accounts of the Ascension to include not one, but two, lengthy discourses on their sorrowing. Why?
Cynewulf's decision to incorporate this theme shifts the perspective of the poem away from Christ resplendent in glory, surrounded by angels in the clouds, to focus on the very human, frail, and suffering apostles on earth. In doing so, he highlights the initial difficulty the apostles--and by extension, all humanity--face in achieving understanding of the divine nature of Christ, and overcoming their human weakness through belief. This image of the mournful, weeping apostles, staring in bewilderment toward the heavens, being comforted (or chastised, depending on how one reads it) by Christ's angelic attendants, speaks directly to the central theme of Cynewulf's poem summarized in its final lines: the need for individual Christians to meditate on how they too may overcome their human weaknesses and so "ascend with Christ" (312-16). By drawing on this particular exegetical tradition of the grieving apostles and elaborating on it with greater detail and pathos, Cynewulf portrays the apostles as representatives of humanity, frail but capable of redemption through faith.
Cynewulf's elaboration of the contrast between the apostles' sorrow and the angels' jubilation at the Ascension further highlights humankind's flawed understanding. When situated within the homiletic context from which it was drawn, the description recalls the often ambivalent representation of the apostles throughout the New Testament (and especially prior to the descent of the Holy Spirit). Unlike most post-apostolic saints, the apostles are repeatedly shown in the Bible as confused, slow to understand, easily misled, arrogant, emotionally and spiritually weak, and, as Augustine puts it, full of "desiderio carnali" [fleshly yearning]. Yet they are able to overcome these weaknesses and undertake the mission which Christ commits to them through their willingness to accept and use the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this way, the apostles become singularly imitable models for all Christians, and, I would argue, for Cynewulf in particular.
In the works of Cynewulf we encounter an authorial persona who demonstrates an apostolic mode of self-fashioning. By signing his poems in runes and providing insights into his own spiritual states, Cynewulf's poems speak of an 'ic' who negotiates a religious and personal identity in relation to Christ's apostles and other saints. Cynewulf's perception of his relationship to the apostles in Ascension hinges on his identification with their conversion, their suffering, and their acceptance of the divine gifts of the Holy Spirit that enable them to "bodia0 and bremad beorhtne geleafan ... geond ealne yrmenne grund" [preach and proclaim the bright belief ... throughout the wide earth (44, 42)]. For this reason, the theme of the miracle of Pentecost assumes a central role in Cynewulf's poetic consciousness. From Cynewulf's perspective, the elevation of the apostles, and thus all humankind, from a fixation on earthly, fleshly concerns to a transcendent, spiritual understanding of where they must "hyht stapelian" [establish their hopes (425)] is made possible through their reception of the Holy Spirit, who bestows gifts upon human beings.
Since the time of Chrysostom, the themes of the Ascension have been bound up with the Pentecost descent of the Holy Spirit and Christ's bestowal of spiritual gifts on the apostles. (19) According to Brian O Br6in, Anglo-Saxon liturgical sources show that the descent of the Holy Spirit featured largely in Ascension celebrations throughout the liturgical week, not only on the Sunday after Ascension where one might expect the liturgy to look forward to the feast of Pentecost. The Anglo-Saxon church developed an interest in bringing these two events together liturgically as part of an increased emphasis on the missionary dimension of the church (supported by a reading of Acts that focuses on Christ's commission), and the importance of the apostles as the originators of the Apostolic Succession. (20) This particular understanding linking Christ's Ascension, the commission of the apostles, and the significance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the continuity of the church was promoted by the dissemination (especially within Anglo-Saxon England) of Gregory the Great's Homilia in Evangelia 29 as a standard liturgical reading for the Sunday after Ascension. (21)
Gregory's homily draws on Paul's reinterpretation of Psalm 67:19 in Ephesians 4:8-13 as "Ascending on high, he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men" to argue that in ascending to heaven and descending to harrow Hell, Christ enabled the Holy Spirit to be sent to men. (22) Augmenting the list of gifts presented by Paul in Ephesians with material from another Pauline enumeration of spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Gregory elaborates on this theme as follows: "Dedit uero dona hominibus, quia, misso desuper Spiritu, alii sermonuem sapientiae, alii semonem scientiae, alii gratiam uirtutum, alii gratiam curationum, alii genera linguarum, alii interpretationem sermonum trubuit. Dedit ergo dona hominibus" [He gave gifts to men, because after sending the Spirit from above he gave to one the utterance of wisdom, to another the utterance of knowledge, to another the gift of virtue, to another the gift of healing, to another various tongues, to another the interpretation of utterances (1 Cor. 12:8). He gave gifts to men]. (23) In the context of Gregory's work, this elaboration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit hearkens back to the signs which Christ promises his followers in the passage from Mark 16 with which he began, (24) and looks forward to his next homily on Pentecost, focusing on the Holy Spirit's gift of tongues as a restoration of the "communionem unius linguae" [communion of one language] that had been lost at Babel. (25) It is perhaps for this reason that Gregory omits Paul's references to gifts such as prophecy, miracles, and the discerning of spirits to focus primarily on intellectual and linguistic gifts, such as wisdom and the ability to speak and interpret many languages.
Cynewulf follows Gregory in associating the gifts which Christ gave to men via the Holy Spirit with Christ's Ascension into heaven and the descent into Hell at the Harrowing. Here again, however, he expands Gregory's points considerably, altering the message to complement his poems earlier depictions of the apostles as representatives of human weakness. He expands both Gregory's and Paul's lists of divine gifts to include physical and intellectual as well as spiritual endowments that more aptly reflect the variety of skills and vocations represented throughout humankind. Where his sources are content to list only the miraculous gifts of tongues, healing, prophecy, or the discerning of spirits, Cynewulf gives us an extensive list that draws on the Germanic motif of the "gifts of men." (26) Cynewulf lists such varied accomplishments as poetic composition, music, "godcunde reccan ryhte ae" [understanding of the divine law (231b-32a)], astronomy, "searolice wordcwide writan" [skillfully writing a discourse (233b-34a)], victory in battle, sailing, tree-climbing, blacksmithing, and even knowledge of topography and geography (242b-43a). Critics have argued whether these talents and abilities--especially the more physical, secular ones such as fighting, sailing, tree-climbing, or the making of weapons--ought to be interpreted metaphorically, or regarded as mere topoi or charming representations of daily activities in Anglo-Saxon England. (27) I would point out, however, that the wide range and plenitude of gifts that Christ bestows on humankind in Cynewulf's account calls to mind the comments which preface Paul's list of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11: "Now there are diversities of graces but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministries but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh in all. And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit." Cynewulf's listing of the diversity of humankind's abilities speaks to the power of the Holy Spirit working in every person in different ways but toward the same end. (28)
By widening his list of "diversities of graces" and "diversities of operations" to include apparently secular abilities and works, Cynewulf emphasizes to his audience that the Holy Spirit came, through the apostles, to all humanity. The implications of the Pentecost miracle which Cynewulf associates with Christ's promises at the Ascension apply not just to clerics and monastics, but to all Christian people who are willing to accept the mission laid upon them by Christ, and to use their talents accordingly for the encouragement of faith and support of the church. (29) The inclusion of physical abilities which, as Calder points out, "correspond to Christ's descent to earth," alongside those intellectual and spiritual gifts of man which "more nearly approximate divine power" is more than a clever variation on the descent-ascent motif so pervasive in the poem. (30) It is also an implicit argument which strengthens the connections Cynewulf makes between the apostles, himself, and his audience by showing how the gifts of the Holy Spirit unite them as fellows in the service of Christ. Importantly, from Cynewulf's perspective, this interpretation holds out the possibility for individual Christians to overcome the limitations of human understanding and spiritual weakness and seek salvation through proper use of their abilities.
Cynewulf begins his passage on the gifts of men by telling us that Christ "da us geweordade ... ond us giefe sealde, / uppe mid englum ece stapelas, / ond eac monigfealde modes snyttru / seow ond sette geond sefan monna" [established eternal habitations for us up among the angels, and also sowed and planted manifold wisdom of the mind in the hearts of men]. (31) The relationship between the Ascension of Christ and the planting of wisdom in men's hearts provides the reader with a significant insight into Cynewulf's understanding of the Pentecost miracle. Prior to the Ascension, Cynewulf implies, men were not truly wise in mind, because they had not yet been blessed with the ability to recognize and interpret spiritual mysteries, or to turn their intellect toward the service of God. The establishment of "eternal habitations" for humankind in heaven and the establishment of "wisdom of the mind in the hearts of men" are two parallel events, both of which were made possible through Christ's departure from the apostles. As Kees Dekker explains, this interpretation of the Pentecost miracle provides continuity between the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the apostles, and those gifts that are available to believers in the post-Apostolic age. (32) Ultimately based on a view expressed in Gregory the Great's Regula Pastoralis, the idea of a correlation between the gift of tongues and the gifts of wisdom and eloquence was current and influential in Anglo-Saxon England. (33) For Cynewulf and for Gregory, the ability of human beings to perceive, interpret, and propagate divine wisdom represents both the legacy of the apostles' reception of the Holy Spirit, and a significant means by which one may emulate Christ's Ascension and earn the reward he established for humanity.
Even as Cynewulf broadens the list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to better encompass the full range of humanity's talents and abilities, he nonetheless follows Gregory in granting pride of place to intellectual gifts, particularly those concerned with language and understanding. (34) Of the ten gifts of men discussed by Cynewulf in this passage, the first six are intellectual and all of these, even the gift of astronomical understanding, (35) have something to do with language. Significantly, Cynewulf treats the gift of poetry first and in the greatest detail:
Sumum wordlape wise sended on his modes gemynd purh his mupes gaest, aedele ondgiet. Se maeg eal fela singan ond secgan pam bid snyttru craeft bifolen on ferpe. (Ascension, 225-29a)
[To one He sends wise eloquence into the thought of his mind through the spirit of his mouth, noble understanding. He can sing and tell about very many things through the powers of wisdom entrusted to his heart.] (36)
Poetry, in this instance, is tied to the gift of wisdom, of "aedele ondgiet" [noble understanding]. The impetus to poetic expression and the processes of composition are facilitated by the poet's superior "snyttru craeft" [powers of wisdom], that is, his mental faculties. The gift sent to him by the Holy Spirit is thus twofold: the inspired individual gains knowledge and wisdom about "eal fela" [very many things] as well as the ability to turn that body of knowledge into words through "wordlape wise" [wise eloquence].
Bede's Expositio Actuum Apostolorum provides a Latin literary source for Cynewulf's conception of pairing the gifts of wisdom and eloquence in the Pentecost miracle:
Spiritaliter autem varietas linguarum dona variarum significant gratiarum. Verum non incongrue Spiritus sanctus intelligitur ideo primum linguarum donum dedisse hominibus, quibus humana sapientia forinsecus et discitur, et docetur, ut ostenderet quam facile possit sapientes facere per sapientiam Dei quae eis interna est.
[Spiritually, however, the variety of languages signifies gifts of a variety of graces. Truly, therefore, it is not inconsistent to understand that the Holy Spirit first gave to human beings the gift of languages, by which human wisdom is both learned and taught extrinsically, so that he might thereby show how easily he can make men wise through the wisdom of God, which is within them.] (37)
In the context of Bede's commentary, this is presented according to the traditional interpretation which sees the Pentecostal gift of tongues as a recovery of "Unitatem linguarum quam superbia Babylonis disperserat," [the unity of languages which the pride of Babylon shattered]. What is regained by the Holy Spirit's gift of languages to humanity is the ability to express and share the wisdom of God, an ability that was denied them after the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel. That the gift of language was renewed in the apostles themselves signifies that the purpose of the descent of the Holy Spirit was to imbue human beings with the potential to spread the Word of God by using language to teach in missionary and pastoral endeavors. (38)
As we have seen, Cynewulf's perspective on the sorrow of the apostles may have been influenced by Bede's reading of the Ascension story in the Expositio Actuum Apostolorum. Here is a further similarity between Bede's interpretation of the gift of language as a gift of wisdom and Cynewulf's emphasis on the poet as the voice of the "monigfealde modes snyttru" [manifold wisdom of the mind (223)] that God has "seow ond sette geond sefan monna" [sowed and planted in the hearts of men (224)]. In building his interpretation of the gift of language on Bede's commentary, Cynewulf combines the concept of poetry with what Gregory's homily lists as the "alii sermonem sapientiae" and the "alii sermonem scientiae" [word of wisdom, word of knowledge] in order to emphasize the importance of eloquence and the necessity of communicating of God's wisdom to others through artistic means.
The next gift listed by Cynewulf, "Sum maeg fingrum wel / hlude fore haelepum hearpan stirgan, / gleobeam gretan" [one may pluck the harp well and loudly with fingers before men, play the harp (229b-31a)], draws attention to the artistic and performative aspects of the gifts of wisdom and language treated directly before it. The gift seems at first to pertain to musical skill only; however, we must recall that most, if not all, Old English poetry, even poetry written in manuscript, was (in theory) composed to be recited to musical accompaniment. By placing the gift of music, specifically harping, directly after his expansion on the gift of poetry, Cynewulf reinforces his claim that inspired poetry is meant, above all, to be "singan ond secgan" [sung and told (228b)] "wel / hlude fore haelepum" [well and loudly before men (229b-30a)]. (39)
Cynewulf's understanding of poetry's purpose is thus essentially apostolic. As one who has received the gift of poetic eloquence, the Christian poet is obliged to use his abilities to further the cause of the church and, like the apostles, spread the "beorhtne geleafan" [bright belief (44b)] and "sibbe sawad on sefan manna" [sow peace in the hearts of men (48)]. (40) In this way, Cynewulf's own poetry becomes associated with the fulfillment of Christ's commands to the apostles before his Ascension, and Cynewulf's act of poetic composition demonstrates the ongoing presence of Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to humankind long after the Pentecost.
Cynewulf's poetic self-consciousness, his awareness of poetry as his particular God-given gift, comes through in all of his poems. But by beginning his poem Ascension with the image of grieving apostles and moving on to explore the implications of their acceptance of Christ's spiritual gift of eloquence, Cynewulf calls attention to the ways in which his own flawed human nature and poetic skills associate him with the apostles as a fellow preacher of God's word. Cynewulf's depiction of the grieving but eventually uplifted apostles is appropriate to the subject of the feast of the Ascension in that it holds out hope to the author and his believing readers that they too may rise above their flawed human nature, if only they can harness the "meahta sped" [fullness of power (49b)] given to them by Christ.
In the lines which follow the "gifts of men" passage in Ascension, Cynewulf adapts an exegetical discussion in Gregory's homily on the significance of the sun and the moon, but alters it in order to further underline this hopeful theme of the triumph of Christian belief over human weakness. Cynewulf's source text presents an allegorical reading of the sun and the moon based on a passage in Habacuc that Gregory interprets as signifying the Ascension and its effects on the church. (41) As Charles D. Wright has shown, Cynewulf dramatically reworks Gregory's exegesis of this Old Testament passage. (42) After making an argument which interprets both the sun (representing the Lord) and the moon (representing the church, illuminated by the "light" of the sun that is Christ) as being raised up at the Ascension, Cynewulf's discussion of this passage departs sharply from Gregory's argument that the Ascension enabled the early Christian church to "aperte praedicauit quod occulte credidit" [preach openly what she secretly believed] and cease to fear the "aduersa mundi omnimundo formidauit" [adversities of the world] that had plagued it before. Instead, Cynewulf makes the more historically accurate but nonetheless strikingly different claim that the violent persecutions of Christians by "haepenra hyrda" [heathen shepherds (266)] took place after Christ's Ascension. (43) Whereas Gregory sees the Ascension as the point in time when the Christian church came out of the shadows and into the light, Cynewulf vividly depicts the aftermath of the Ascension as a time of chaos, oppression, and destruction of the church by the Romans (262b-72).
Cynewulf's changes to Gregory's exegesis of the sun and the moon enable him to make a more nuanced argument about the way that Christ intervenes to aid those who accept the "gastes giefe" [grace of the Spirit (271a)]. Cynewulf sets up a terrible scene of persecution for his audience, in order to remind them that the Church, like the individual believers who make it up, is in a state of constant struggle against outside forces, temptations, and its own inherent weaknesses as a human institution on earth. Even in the period after the Ascension, Cynewulf tells us, Christians had to endure this terror and to fear for their spiritual and physical survival in the face of persecution. Yet, even in the worst of times, as Cynewulf goes on to say at the conclusion of this passage, God conspires to increase the glory of his disciples through the grace of the Spirit sent after the Ascension of the Lord (Hwaepre ford bicwom / purh gaestes giefe godes begna blaed / rafter upstige ecan dryhtnes [270b-72]). Cynewulf's alteration of Gregory's passage on the sun and the moon enables him to make an argument for Christ's intervention in the lives of his disciples at a time of desperation. Because of this same grace, the church lives on even in Cynewulf's own time. Cynewulf's modifications to Gregory's exegesis reinforce his points about the apostles as representatives of a flawed humanity whose salvation is facilitated by their reception of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this way, the passage looks forward to the homiletic conclusion of the poem, which builds upon this uplifting lesson of Christ's Ascension.
The second half of Ascension deals with the typically Cynewulfian preoccupations of the terrors of the Last Judgment and the anxieties the author feels concerning the salvation of his soul. However, Cynewulf's tone and purpose in treating these themes here differs markedly from his other poems. Cynewulf's conclusions in Elene, Juliana, and Fates of the Apostles focus primarily on the author's obsessive concerns with his own sinful nature and have little to say about how to overcome this seemingly insurmountable obstacle to salvation. (44) The conclusion of Ascension, on the other hand, presents Cynewulf's situation as a sinner as common to all humankind, and offers counsel on ways that Christians can use the gifts which God has given them as recompense for their misdeeds.
This difference can be partially explained by the fact that Ascension is a homiletic poem, one based on a source text whose purpose is to exhort the faithful to repentance and Christian living. Cynewulf does follow the general outline of Gregory's concluding homiletic remarks, and this influences both his tone and the instructional content of the last one hundred and sixty lines of the poem. But he also embellishes Gregory's rather terse and predictable exhortations considerably. For example, Gregory concludes his section on the "leaps of Christ" with "Unde, fratres carissimi, oportet ut illic sequamur corde, ubi eum corpore ascendisse credimus. Desideria terrena fugiamus" [dearly beloved, it is fitting that we should follow him in our hearts to where we believe he has ascended in his body. Let us flee earthly desires]. (45) Cynewulf adds repeated calls for his audience to do good and holy deeds to Gregory's exhortations, and instructs them that their actions, as well as their beliefs, will make it possible for them to attain salvation with Christ in heaven ("maerpum tilgan / loret we to loam hyhstan hrofe gestigan / halgum weorcum" [309b-31 la]). While there is an implicit emphasis on Judgment here, the overall tone is hopeful. For Cynewulf, eschewing vain desires ("idle Justas ... forseon" [317b-18a]) goes hand in hand with making good use of one's God-given talents by channeling them into "halgum weorcum" [holy deeds (31 la)]. It is by these means, he instructs his audience, that one can hope to join what he calls, in language reminiscent of the epithets he uses for the apostles, the "gepungen pegnweorud" [excellent host of thanes (312a)].
In repeated homiletic exhortations, Cynewulf argues that his audience can change, can do their best to overcome their human weakness, doubt, and love of earthly things by defending themselves against the devil's promptings to sin through prayer and acceptance of the comforts the Father and the Son send to them in the form of the "pone blidan gaest" [merciful Spirit (335b)]. While the runic epilogue of Ascension does indulge in Cynewulf's characteristic penitential lament and fearful, vivid imagining of the harsh judgment of God, the conclusion of this poem differs from the others in that Ascension ultimately offers a way out of the depths of self-loathing and sin-stained abjection through poetry. Directly after the passage containing his runic signature, Cynewulf writes:
Forpon ic leofra gehwone laeran wille paet he ne agaele gaestes pearfe, ne on gylp geote, penden god wille paet he her in worulde wunian mote, somed sipian sawel in lice, in pam gaesthofe. Scyle gumena gehwylc on his geardagum georne bipencan paet us milde bicwom meahta waldend aet aerestan purh paes engles word. (Ascension, 376-83)
[Therefore I wish to teach each of the beloved, so that he will not neglect the soul's need, nor pour himself out in boasting, while God is pleased that he might dwell here in the world, likewise that the soul should journey in the body, in that guest-house. So must every man think earnestly about his past days, about how the ruler of powers came to us mildly at first, through the words of the angel.]
In the passages which precede the above quotation, the poet guiltily confesses his own failure to heed the Savior's commandments ("ic ne heold teala paet me haelend mid' ), declares an expectation of harsh judgment for his sins, and concludes with a fiery runic signature passage on the destruction of all worldly joys (358-67a). But, in this poem, Cynewulf's grim meditations motivate action, rather than despair. As Cynewulf states in the passage quoted above, he feels compelled to share his spiritual wisdom with the world precisely because of the impending terrors of Judgment ("forpon" meaning "therefore" or "because"). The medium of poetry, as the ultimate expression of humanity's verbal gifts, compellingly and convincingly portrays the need for Cynewulf's audience to "on his geardagum georne bipencan" [think earnestly about (their) past days (382)], and to change their ways of living for the better before it is too late.
The last two sections of Cynewulf's Ascension are elaborate set pieces: one vividly illustrates the horrors of Judgment Day, the other likens life to a sea journey. These poetic flourishes, particularly the highly wrought concluding metaphor of the sea journey, may be read as final examples of Cynewulf's exercise of poetic gifts in order to gain salvation for himself and others. Cynewulf takes Gregory's short injunction to "iam tamen spei uestrae ancoram in aeternam patriam figite" [fasten the anchor of your hope in the eternal homeland], and elaborates it into an epic simile that brings together Anglo-Saxon nautical imagery and poetic language familiar from Old English elegies such as The Seafarer with the biblical and patristic commonplace of the tempestuous sea voyage, itself modeled on the classical poetic topos of the storm at sea. (46) Cynewulf combines the vigorous rhetoric of this topos with the patristic theme of "the voyage of this life," a theme that Thomas Hill tells us also finds expression as a nautical metaphor in the commentary on 1 John by Augustine of Hippo: "So in this mortal state we were held fast by our guiltiness, He in mercy came down: He entered in unto the captive, a Redeemer and not an oppressor. The Lord for us shed his blood, redeemed us, changed our hope. As yet we bear the mortality of the flesh, and take future immortality upon trust; and on the sea we are tossed about by the waves, but we have the anchor of hope already fixed upon the land." (47) Augustine, like Cynewulf, adapts the nautical metaphorics of antiquity to the conceptual theme of life as a journey by drawing on the biblical figure of the "anchor of hope" presented in Hebrews 9:16. In doing so, he creates a stirring image to express what he sees as a central paradox of Christian existence: the believing, baptized Christian is at once on the dangerous sea journey that is life, being battered by the winds of temptation and despair, and yet also safely moored in the harbor of heaven, held fast by the anchor of his faith and the hope which he gained when Christ ascended. (48) This paradox encapsulates the problem that Cynewulf attempts to resolve throughout Ascension.
When examined from a theological point of view, Cynewulf's rationale for ending his poem with this particular type of nautical metaphor becomes apparent. The full significance and complexity of his epic simile becomes even clearer when we consider his usage from the standpoint of literary history. As E. R. Curtius notes, "nautical metaphors originally belong to poetry." (49) Not only are nautical images commonly used in Latin poetry from the earliest times, but they are also commonly used as metaphors for poetry, and particularly for describing the experiences of authors and audiences at the beginnings and endings of poetic works. Curtius cites an example from Virgil's Georgics as a well-known instance of this figure--but he also lists numerous medieval Latin examples, including works by Cynewulf's Anglo-Saxon compatriots Aldhelm and Alcuin. (50) Klaus Grinda notes the image of a ship entering harbor as a metaphor for the conclusion of Felix's Vita Guthlaci and the Old English prose Guthlac, indicating the use of this commonplace in other Anglo-Saxon works, including one in the vernacular. (51) All of these authors--especially Aldhelm, Alcuin, and Felix--depict the poet, author, or scribe as a sailor, who, battling the "elements" (his own ignorance, the difficulties of composing verse, long hours working in the scriptorium, etc.) and deftly steering his "ship" of poetry (or his pen), concludes his work by "entering port, with or without casting anchor." (52) In adopting the widely used metaphor of the perilous sea journey to conclude his poem, Cynewulf develops the potential of the "anchor of hope" figure by conflating religious and aesthetic metaphors to further underscore the connections between his practice of composing poetry and his prospects for salvation. Within the logic of Cynewulf's nautical metaphor itself, the goal of the sea journey of Christian life is "haelo" [salvation (420a)]. But within the logic of the larger tradition of using nautical metaphors to describe poetic composition, the goal of the "sea journey" of writing is the completion of this poem, which Cynewulf strives to achieve with special deftness and care. (53)
These final nineteen lines are Cynewulf's grand finale: here he exhibits his considerable expertise in classical and Christian poetics, and assimilates these Latin literary traditions to the special formal and stylistic conventions of Anglo-Saxon verse. The language of the passage is pure Old English poetry, replete with nautical kennings such as sundhengesturn [literally, "wavehorses" (413b)], flodwudu [literally "flood-wood" (414a)], and ydrnearas [literally "wave-mares" (424a)] for ships, and figures for the sea such as deop gelad ["deep way" or "street" (416b-17a)] and ofer hreone hrycg ["over the back of the ocean" (419a)]. Cynewulf's description of the sea's treacherous, stormy, ice-cold waves instantly recalls several passages from Old English elegiac and heroic poetry set in hostile seascapes signifying one's life in this ever-changing, fleeting world.
Cynewulf's poetic comparison of a person's life to "faring in ships over the cold water" reminds his readers that their hopes for salvation are "frecne" and "wacan" [imperiled and ever weakening (414b and 416a)] as long as they remain in this mortal life. The sea, which is their "drohtad" [way of life (417)] continues to be dangerous, but Christ's Ascension enables them to find the shores of salvation at last. Through Christ's exaltation of humanity upon his Ascension into heaven, and his bestowal of grace through the descent of the Holy Spirit, Cynewulf's final lines tell us, man has finally gained the ability to realize the true purpose of his "ships" and the direction in which he must sail them to reach the harbor of heaven ["paere hyde ... heofonum" (425a and 427b)]. These "sea-horses" and "old wave-mares," as Cynewulf calls them, can signify the individual gifts and abilities which humankind must direct towards God and the service of the church, as well as the human bodies that serve as vessels for souls as they travel to the hereafter.
The conclusion of Ascension presents us with a complex, powerful example of Cynewulf's poetic artistry. The last three lines bring the major themes of the poem into focus and deliberately end with the phrase "pa he heofonum astag" [when he ascended to heaven (427b)], reminding the audience one final time that Christ's Ascension was the turning point in human salvation. This display of learning and eloquence concretizes Cynewulf's claim that it is through right use of spiritual gifts that people can overcome their human frailty and weakness. Finally, by ending with a nautical metaphor, Cynewulf strengthens the parallels between these gifts and abilities and those received by the apostles. The sea journeys of the apostles (Paul in particular) led to their missions, their martyrdoms, and, ultimately, their salvation. (54) This implicit comparison suggests that the faithful Christian's use of his God-given gifts connects his voyage through life to the missionary voyages of the apostles.
In Cynewulf's work, the apostles function as Christ's human audience and as his representatives in the world through the missionary office he bestows upon them in the Great Commission. Poised between the humility of Christ's descent into human nature at the Nativity and the exaltation of Christ's humanity into heaven at the Ascension, the apostles, Cynewulf, and his Anglo-Saxon audience stand with two feet on earth, but looking up to heaven with fear, hope, and expectation. Cynewulf's poetic self-consciousness and his choices in subject matter are thus intimately linked; he sees himself as an inheritor of the gifts of language and eloquence which were originally bestowed upon the apostles at Pentecost after Christ's Ascension. He interprets Christ's apostolic injunction as a call to retell the history of the church in a moving Old English idiom, translating the story of Christ's continuing presence in the world into a medium his fellow Anglo-Saxons would find relevant and compelling to them as a nation conscious of their religious history. Yet, as a Christian living in a post-apostolic age, inching (in his view) ever closer to the Day of Judgment, he struggles to accept and make good use of the divine gifts he was given. By exposing the human weaknesses of the apostles as well as their strength and sanctity, Cynewulf provides himself and his Anglo-Saxon audience with a powerful model of Christian living and belief.
Columbus State University
The author wishes to express her thanks to Charles D. Wright, Rene4 R. Trilling, Jonathan Wilcox, and the anonymous editors of PQ for their invaluable suggestions and editorial assistance in the preparation of this article.
(1) Gregory the Great, Homilia in Evangelia XXIX: In Ascensione Domini, in Homiliae in Evangelia, ed. Raymond Etaix, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 141 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1999), 245-54. The poem known either as Christ II or Ascension (or both) is the second item in the Exeter Book manuscript and forms the centerpiece of a triptych of poems dealing with aspects of Christ's presence in the world. Old English quotations of Ascension will follow Bernard Muir's edition in The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry (U. of Exeter Press, 1994). All translations of Ascension are my own. On the history of the establishment of Cynewulf's authorship, see Daniel G. Calder, Cynewulf(Boston: Twayne, 1981), 11-26, and esp. R.D. Fulk, "Cynewulf: Canon, Dialect, and Date," The Cynewulf Reader, ed. Robert E. Bjork (New York: Routledge, 2001), 3-23.
(2) Mark 16:14-20. All biblical quotations are from the Latin Vulgate version or Douay-Rheims translation.
(3) Rather than straightforwardly translating Gregory's Latin homily into Old English, Cynewulf uses Gregory's text as a starting point for his own contemplation of the meaning of Christ's Ascension for the apostles, angels, and humanity at the present time and on the Day of Judgment. Earl R. Anderson, Cynewulf: Structure, Style and Theme in His Poetry (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1983), 24, also lists Gregory the Great's Homily 10 on Ezekiel and Adamnan's De Locis Sanctis as possible Latin sources for Cynewulf's Ascension. Calder comments that "while Gregory treats only a specific biblical passage, Cynewulf draws on several portions of Scripture to complete his narrative, mainly Psalm 23, Matt. 28:16-30, Luke 24:36-53, and Acts 1:1-14" (Cynewulf, 42).
(4) Gregory the Great, Homilia 29.1.1-8; "Gospel Homily 29: On the Ascension" in Forty Gospel Homilies, ed. and trans. David Hurst, Cistercian Studies 123 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990), 226.
(5) See, for example, Acts 1:1-3, Matt. 28:16-20, and Luke 24:36-53.
(6) The account in Acts 1:12 simply notes the apostles' return to Jerusalem with no mention of their emotional state.
(7) Anderson, Cynewulf, 59, notes the similarities between Cynewulf's language of grief and that used by the Beowulf-poet and the poet of Guthlac B.
(8) Ascension, 18. See Peter Clemoes, "Cynewulf's Image of the Ascension," Cynewulf Reader, 110-11; Calder, Cynewulf, 53; and Brian O Broin, "Rex Christus Ascendens: The Christological Cult of the Ascension in Anglo-Saxon England," Ph.D. diss. (U. of Illinois, 2002), 99.
(9) Thomas D. Hill comments on the depiction of the apostles as obedient thanes in his article "Bethania, the House of Obedience and the OE Christ II," N&Q, n.s., 27 (1980): 290-92.
(10) John Chrysostom, In Homiliam de Ascensionem, in Sermones panegyrici in solemnitates D. N. Jesu Christi et Sanctorum, ed. J.-E Migne. Patrologia Graeca 50, col. 442-52; Augustine, Sermo CCLXIV: De Ascensione Domini IV, ed. J.-E Migne. Patrologia Latina 38, col. 1212-18; Bede, Expositio Actuum Apostolorum et Retractio, ed. M. L. W. Laistner. Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 121 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1983), 1:1 la.
(11) In his version, Cynewulf extends the angels' speech considerably to take up nearly twenty lines of poetry (69b-87).
(12) John Chrysostom, In Homiliam de Ascensionem, trans. M. E Toal [Christ's Ascension, Mau's Exaltation] in The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, vol. 2 (Chicago: Regnery, 1958), 432-40.
(13) According to Thomas N. Hall's "Sample Entry on Chrysostom," for Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, http://saslc.nd.edu/samples/c/chrysostom.pdf, none of the homilies in Chrysostom's Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles appear to have been circulating in Anglo-Saxon England.
(14) Bede, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Lawrence Martin (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1989), 35. This is similarity noted by O Broin, Rex Christus Ascendens, 105.
(15) Augustine, Sermo 264.4.2; "Sermon 264: On the Ascension of the Lord II," The Works of St. Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, vol. 3.7, trans. Edmund Hill, ed. John Rotelle (New Rochelle: New City Press, 1993), 226.
(16) Augustine, Sermo 264.4.2; "Sermon 264.4," 230.
(17) John 16:6.
(18) Augustine, "Sermon 264.4," 229.
(19) Pentecost is the next major feast on the liturgical calendar following the Sunday after Ascension. See 0 Broin, Rex Christus Ascendens, 53 ft., 187, and Jerome Oetgen, "Common Motifs in the Old English Ascension Homilies" Neophilologus 69 (1985): 437-45, for thorough discussions of this theme and others in relation to the Feast of the Ascension and its literature.
(20) "Portions of the Gregorian homily were included in the divine office for the feast, its vigil, and the octave of the feast, and it also circulated widely in the homiliary of Paul the Deacon" (O Broin, Rex Christus Ascendens, 112). The widespread use of Gregory's Homilia in Evangelia XXIX in liturgical services for the feast of the Ascension in Anglo-Saxon England thus made this homily a natural choice for Cynewulf's as a source for his poem on the Ascension.
(21) Thomas N. Hall, "Gregory's Homilies in Early English Manuscripts" Rome and the North: The Early Reception of Gregory the Great in Germanic Europe, ed. Rolf Bremmer, Kees Dekker, and David E Johnson (Leuven: Peeters, 2001), 118, counts twenty-four extant Anglo-Saxon manuscript copies of Gregory's Gospel homilies, mostly in homiliaries meant for study and liturgical reading
(22) O Broin, Rex Christus Ascendens, 8, notes that the version of this line given in Ephesians contrasts with that given in the actual Psalm quoted, which says that men themselves are the gifts. D. R. Letson, "The Homiletic Nature of Cynewulf's Ascension Poem," Florilegium 2 (1980): 195. Gregory, Homilia 29.10.211-14.
(23) Gregory, Homily 29.10.233; Homilia 29.10.214-18.
(24) O Broin, Rex Christus Ascendens, 19.
(25) Gregory, Homilia 30.
(26) Anderson, Cynewulf, 31.
(27) For figurative readings of this passage, see Oliver Grosz, "Man's Imitation of the Ascension: The Unity of Christ II" in Cynewulf Reader, 398-408, and Chase, "God's Presence," 87-101. For source studies, see J. E. Cross, "The Old English Poetic Theme of 'The Gifts of Men;" Neophilologus 46 (1962): 66-70; Geoffrey Russom, "A Germanic Concept of Nobility in the Gifts of Men and Beowulf," Speculum 53 (1978): 1-15; and Anderson, Cynewulf, 28-44.
(28) Anderson, Cynewulf, 32.
(29) O Broin, Rex Christus Ascendens, 123.
(30) Calder, Cynewulf, 64. See George Hardin Brown, "The Descent-Ascent Motif in Christ H of Cynewulf," in Cynewulf Reader, 133-46.
(31) Ascension, 220a, 221b-24.
(32) Kees Dekker, "Pentecost and Linguistic Self-Consciousness," JEGP 104 (2005): 371.
(33) Gregory writes, "Hic est enim quod super pastores primos in linguarum specie Spiritus sanctus insedit: quia nimirum quos repleuerit, de se protinus loquentes facit." [For hence it is that the Holy Spirit alighted upon the first pastors under the appearance of tongues; because whomsoever He has filled, He himself at once makes eloquent]. Gregory the Great, Regula Pastoralis, ed. Bruno Judic and Floribert Rommel, trans. C. Morel, 2 vols. (Paris: Cerf, 1992), 2:4, 190. Dekker, "Pentecost and Linguistic Self-Consciousness," 351.
(34) Oliver Grosz, "Man's Imitation of the Ascension: The Unity of Christ II," in Cynewulf Reader, 404-5.
(35) Ascension, 232b-33a: sum maeg ryne tungla secgan [one may declare (lit. 'say') the course of the stars/planets]. Emphasis mine. The other nonpoetic intellectual gifts mentioned by Cynewulf, the interpretation of divine law and the ability to "skillfully write a discourse," obviously pertain to reading and writing as well as the ability to educate others and share one's knowledge.
(36) This is the only gift which Cynewulf elaborates on for six and a half lines; the other gifts are all described in 1-3, with only the gift of ability in battle being elaborated on for more than two lines (234b-37a).
(37) Bede, Expositio, 2.3; Commentary, 2.3, 29.
(38) See Frederick M. Biggs, "AElfric's Mark, Other Things, and Apostolic Authority" SP 104 (2007): 227-49, 232, for a discussion of a similar concept at work in AElfric's sermon on Mark in Lives of Saints.
(39) As a reminder that these two gifts of poetic composition and music could be united in one individual, we need only to turn to the well-known story of Caedmon, whose shunning of the harp at a secular gathering caused God to inspire him to take it up again in the service of Christ. Several scholars have remarked on the appropriateness of Cynewulf's attention to the gift of poetry in Ascension, and some of them have treated the subject in great detail; see especially Grosz, "Man's Imitation," 405-7; see also Anderson, Cynewulf, 28-44, and Calder, Cynewulf, 48ff.
(40) Anderson, Cynewulf, 27, and O Broin, Rex Christus Ascendens, 165-66.
(41) Gregory, Homilia 29.10.218-26.
(42) Charles D. Wright, "The Persecuted Church and the Mysterium Lunae: Cynewulf's Ascension lines 252b-272 (Christ II, lines 691b-711)," Latin Learning and Medieval Lore: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge, ed. Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe and Andy Orchard (U. of Toronto Press, 2005), 291-314.
(43) As Wright, "Persecuted Church," 297-98, explains, "Cynewulf's modification coincides with a widespread patristic tradition that associated the image of the church as moon specifically with the persecutions it had endured in the apostolic and post-apostolic era."
(44) Compare the conclusion of Ascension with that of Fates of the Apostles: "Now then I pray the person who may be pleased by the rendering of this poem that he should pray to that holy flock for help, for sanctuary and support for my morbid self" (Nu ic ponne bidde beorn se de lufige / pysses giddes begang paet he geomrum me / pone halgan heap helpe bidde, / frides ond fultomes, 88-91 a); or Juliana: "I pray each person of humankind who recites this poem that, diligent and magnanimous, he will remember me by name and pray the ordaining Lord that he, Protector of the heavens, will afford me help" (Bidde ic monna gehwone / gumena cynnes, pe pis gied wraece, / pet he mec neodful bi noman minum / gemyne modig, ond meotud bidde / paet me heofona helm helpe gefremme, 718b-22).
(45) Gregory, Homily 29.234; Homilia 29.11.238-39.
(46) In these two poems, the exiled speakers lament their fates while traveling aimlessly and alone on frosty seas. See esp. The Seafarer, 1-26, and the description of the sea journey in Cynewulf's poem Elene, 225-45, and the violent storm at sea in the anonymous Old English poem Andreas, 369-81, and Andrew's discussion of seamanship with Christ in disguise as a sailor in lines 471-536. The locus classicus for the epic description of a perilous sea journey is the storm at sea in Virgil's Aeneid. Roger P. H. Green, Latin Epics of the New Testament: Juvencus, Sedulius, Arator (Oxford U. Press, 2006), 335-38, lists several other authors who make use of the commonplace, including Lucan, Catullus, Statius, and in the Christian Latin tradition, Juvencus, Sedulius, and Arator. Judith Garde, Old English Poetry in Medieval Christian Perspective: A Doctrinal Approach (Cambridge: Brewer, 1991), 156-58, discusses several potential patristic sources for Cynewulf's figure of the storm at sea, including Hippolytus of Rome's Treatise on Antichrist, Tertullian's De baptismo 12.7, Caesarius of Arles's Admonitio 1.19 and Gregory the Great's Letter to Leander L The motif of the perilous sea journey also features largely in the Bonifatian correspondence and in the lives of the Anglo-Saxon missionary saints, who frequently draw on Paul's description of his experience of shipwreck in 2 Cor. 11:25-26.
(47) Calder, Cynewulf, 73. In fact, as Thomas Hill points out in "Anchor of Hope and the Sea of this World: Christ II 850-66" English Studies 75 (1994): 290, Cynewulf develops the metaphorical potential of Gregory's passage on the basis of just a single word: "anchora." Hill, "Anchor" 291, quoting Augustine's commentary on 1 John. Emphasis is Hill's.
(48) Hill, "Anchor," 291.
(49) Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard Trask (Princeton: Bollingen Press, 1953), 129.
(50) Indeed, Alcuin's colophonic poem, preserved in MS Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 326, shares many similarities with Cynewulf's nautical passage: "Just as the sailor, snatched from the wild waves of the rough sea, coming into harbor, has a happy heart, so may a certain scribe, putting down his pen, weary under the mountain of labor, have a happy heart. May he say thanks to God for his comfortable life, and may he give thanks for the rest from his labor," in Richard Gameson, "The Scribe Speaks? Colophons in Early English Manuscripts," Chadwick Memorial Lectures 12 (Cambridge U. Press, 2002), 41.
(51) Klaus Grinda, Enzyklopiidie der literarischen Vergleiche: das Bildinventar von der romischen Antike his zum Ende des Fruhmittelalters (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schoningh, 2002), cites many additional examples; see especially the entries Nd2: Seefahrt: Literarisches Unternehmen (451-53), and Nd7: Landung: Dichtungsende (457-58). Grinda places Cynewulf's passage in Ascension under Nbl: Seefahrt, Meer: Leben, Welt (433-35).
(52) Curtius, European Literature, 128-29, explains that "this class of metaphor is extraordinarily widespread throughout the Middle Ages and long survives into later times".
(53) This metaphor was also adopted by other Anglo-Saxon scribes in colophons to express their relief at the completion of a writing task or text; at the end of a catena on the Psalms in the manuscript Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. Lat. 68, the scribe has written "Here finishes the book of Psalms. In Christ Jesus our Lord; read in peace. Just as the port is welcome to sailors, so is the final verse to scribes. Edilberict son of Berictfrid wrote this gloss. May whosoever should read it, pray for the scribe...." in Gameson, "The Scribe Speaks," 35. The adoption of this originally poetic motif for use in colophons further highlights its association with conclusions and endings of written works overall, and for endings in the larger sense of man's life and salvation. Note the scribe's plea for prayers that follows the nautical metaphor for his work, and the giving of his name to the readers, which is very similar in structure and content to Cynewulf's runic epilogues in other poems.
(54) Acts 27-28; 2 Cor. 11:23-29.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2012|
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